The pandemic has had many lasting effects on the roofing industry and others, but one of those effects might be shortening the work week to be four days.
In December, the nearly 100-member group known as the Congressional Progressive Congress endorsed the “32-Hour Workweek Act,” which would effectively reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours.
“After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., in a statement.
The four-day workweek is gaining popularity in countries and companies around the world. With members of Congress taking notice and pushing potential legislation forward, it could be widely adopted in the United States.
But would a four-day workweek be feasible in roofing, a time-sensitive industry that takes pride in putting in extra hours to get the job done?
Creating a Four-Day Atmosphere
Introduced in July, the 32-Hour Workweek Act wouldn’t eliminate 40-hour workweeks. Instead, it would require employers to offer employees overtime pay after 32 hours. This would exclude independent contractors and salaried workers who are exempt from overtime.
It would create a four-day workweek that proponents say increases work-life balance and productivity, as employees would likely manage their time better knowing they wouldn’t have as many days. Supporters also contend it would correct the problem of working longer hours for stagnant wages.
McKay Daniels, COO of the National Roofing Contractors Association, expressed doubts that the legislation will pass, but said the workforce at large, including roofing, is having to problem-solve while being flexible in a post-pandemic world.
“There’s definitely a change of outlook on employees’ parts going on in the country,” he said. “I do think that roofing contractors in particular are incredibly in tune with their employees’ needs and the work that needs to be done.”
Real-world applications have seen some success around the world, including in Japan and New Zealand. Researchers in Iceland found a four-day workweek without a pay cut improved well-being and productivity.
In the roofing industry, Upstate Roofing & Painting in Rochester, N.Y., has used a four-day workweek for decades, where workers put in 10-hour days to get to 40 before hitting overtime. Bob Morgan, CEO of Upstate Roofing, said once the pandemic hit, his workers expressed a desire to not work Saturdays and not as much overtime as in the past.
“We tested the waters, and I gotta be honest with you, I feel that our team is fresher when they get a Saturday and a Sunday off, they’re ready to take on Monday and take on the challenge of the workweek more if they know they might be done by Thursday,” he said.
In what he said has been a huge cultural shift over the past year, his workers want less overtime so they can instead spend time with family on the weekends. Morgan noted his service department still works five eight-hour days a week, but often end their shifts around 4 p.m.
“Overtime, for the most part, we take volunteers if we’re swamped, we don’t force the issue,” Morgan said. “It’s all about communication at the end of the day.”
Situra, a Toronto-based manufacturer of waterproof expansion joints, switched to the four-day workweek in April 2021. Klara Pronerova, workforce operations officer at Situra, said the pandemic inspired the change as a way to improve the well-being of its employees.
“We’re always looking for ways to help us be better, and the four-day workweek just seemed like a really good way of testing out a new way of setting up our employees and giving them a little bit more time to have for themselves and have an extra mental health break while catering to our clients,” said Pronerova.
She said despite roofing being a time-sensitive industry, the program has worked well so far. The company still operates five days a week, but has a rotating schedule so employees only work four of those five days while covering shifts. The company didn’t deduct pay or extend its work days.
“I think they’re really happy with having that extra day, they look forward to it, it’s like having a little vacation every week,” said Pronerova. “(Production) hasn’t been behind once, they haven’t stalled, they just get their things done by Thursday.”
Research shows that longer hours are counterintuitive to production. Pronerova said she noticed improved efficiency from workers since the four-day workweek began, while Morgan said Upstate Roofing had a phenomenal year in 2021.
“We had a record year and we didn’t work as many hours as we typically did, and we certainly didn’t work the amount of overtime that they’re used to working,” he said.
Difficulties and Realities
Rajeev Kapur, president and CEO of 1105 Media and author of “Chase Greatness: Enlightened Leadership for the Next Generation of Disruption,” believes the overall work landscape will shift from the rigid 9-to-5, eight-hour days to more of an “anytime, anywhere, anyplace” system.
“Is it just a matter of working four days a week, eight hours a day, or is it four days a week, 10 hours a day?” he said. “It might be a matter of looking at can you get the same amount of work done by being more flexible on the timing and availability of shifts.”
The idea of a four-day workweek may not jive with the nature of the roofing industry. Critics of four-day workweek initiatives have pointed toward how it may benefit white-collar positions, but not blue-collar workers. Kapur said it doesn’t necessarily break down into blue versus white collar, but what jobs are able to be performed and completed in efficient manners.
“You might see a bit more of a hybrid where the day-to-day construction site will probably be four and five days, but the back office and support side might be outsourced or more spread across the week,” he said.
Opponents argue that 32 hours is simply not enough time to complete the necessary work. As a result, it would cause people more stress knowing they don’t have five days. Daniels points out roofing manufacturers are currently running at full steam to handle supply shortages, while roofing contractors have multiple factors they can’t control, such as bad weather and material deliveries.
“There’s so many variables outside of a contractor’s control that having a fixed, four-day work schedule probably wouldn’t be tenable in many of those situations,” he said. “If they were to do it, it would be a floating day.”
If roofing contractors opted to have four-day workweeks while others didn’t, it could cause situations where customers go with their competitors to match their own schedules.
“The biggest challenge is going to be whether or not the customer base that they support is just a four-day workweek,” Kapur said. “At the end of the day, it’s still a business, you’ve still got to make money, you still need to drive your revenue and your growth and your business.”
Additionally, workers may want the option of extra hours as wages continue to stagnate in the U.S., especially in blue-collar industries.
“I think that you need to look at your employees at an individual level and say what do these people need, and then look at it from the outside-in and say what do our clients need?” Pronerova said. “Look at it from multiple angles and see what works best.”